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The Week That Was

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JAMES MURDOCH
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So, James Murdoch was "disingenuous" during this week's select committee hearing into The News of the World phone hacking saga. We probably could have predicted that outcome, or at least something similar, in advance of the event; what would have been more difficult to predict was that an investigation into journalistic (mal)practice could turn so quickly on its heel into an argument about female MPs' working hours.

For those who missed it - although if you have even a passing interest in the hackgate story it will have been difficult to do so - MP Louise Mensch (who garnered worldwide interest in the first select Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee hearing on the subject earlier in the summer thanks to her take-no-prisoners approach to questioning Murdoch senior and junior) broke short her attendance this time round, with a request to leave early as she was needed to collect her children from school.

"As a single mother, it's a job I try not to delegate. Chairman gave me opportunity to ask all my questions, in full, first," tweeted Louise when quizzed on her actions later. And then, as more questions and criticism duly buzzed onto Twitter's news feed, "If interested; I have childcare, but it's not a job I like to delegate if possible. Grateful to whips for letting me work Thus in #CorbyEN (sic)."

The debate did not stop there.

I don't actually care whether Louise's actions were 'display parenting' or 'parental grandstanding', rather than just articulating the basic facts, as some have suggested. You don't have to be a genius to see she knows how to work the limelight. However, I do care that she has highlighted the reality of having a demanding career and balancing a family at the same time. And I speak as someone who doesn't even have children.

Blogger Gaby Hinsliff wrote about the 'don't ask, don't tell' rule of being an MP, meaning it's more than ok to disappear early to see your family, but you don't tell the TV cameras, much less your colleagues, where you are actually going. But why on earth does there have to be a don't tell aspect to any of it in the first place?

Should we start quizzing all the male MPs about the various times they arrived or left at the hearing? And, yes, before you say it, I'm sure none of them felt the need to spotlight those times to in-the-shadows journalists, but that's hardly the point here. Louise has more than proven herself as an MP with strong opinions, determined to speak out on behalf of the causes she believes in, and ably qualified for the job in hand. Agree or disagree with her politics, the fact she balances that career with three children should be cause for celebration enough.

Some years back, when I was studying for my politics A-level, I wrote an essay on how Westminster could encourage more women to become MPs. This was just before, or at least around the time, that Blair rode in on his landslide majority with his 'Blair's Babes' right behind him (I'd say alongside him, although that didn't end up being the case) and the issue of the male: female ratio within the House of Commons was at an all-time high. My argument, taught, it has to be said, by a forward-thinking male teacher, was that until the expected working hours of MPs was addressed, it would be exceptionally difficult to attract serious numbers of women to the profession.

I have no idea where the essay itself is, although all these years later I still hold firm with the basic premise that if any profession is to have a balanced workforce, it must take into account the lives that surround that workforce - and quite possibly the lives that lend that workforce its passion, its work-ethic and its need to work in the first place.

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